Meaningful Assessment

Dr. Swenson’s keynote presentation on Tuesday gave us all a great deal to consider. He spoke about both the National Association of Colleges & Employers (NACE) Career Readiness Competencies and Ashford’s Institutional Learning Outcomes (ILOs). 

Ashford University’s ILOs represent the knowledge, skills, and abilities that students are expected to develop through their experiences at the university regardless of their course of study or level of degree. They provide the foundation for alignment of the university’s curriculum with the core competencies of the WASC Senior College and University Commission and the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE).

Ashford University graduates:

  1. Apply logic and critical thinking to evaluate reasoning, explore diverse perspectives, and engage in metacognition.

  2. Communicate thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively in written and oral forms.

  3. Leverage digital technologies to solve problems, complete tasks, and accomplish goals.

  4. Demonstrate information literacy through accessing, evaluating, and using information.

  5. Construct ethical responses to contemporary problems.

  6. Cultivate knowledge of and respect for people with diverse backgrounds, values, and lifestyles.

  7. Apply knowledge of commonalities and differences across varying cultural, economic, and geographic populations as part of global citizenship.

  8. Demonstrate personal accountability using effective interpersonal communication and emotional intelligence. 

In my role at Ashford, I have the great opportunity to partner with faculty in meaningful and exciting work where we consider how to most appropriately assess student learning. A question that continues to emerge in that dialogue is, “How can one assess the degree to which a person possesses the dispositions associated with a given learning outcome?”  Qualities like resilience and the ability to communicate and collaborate with others are important elements of the student learning experience. Dr. Swenson specifically stated that specific dispositions need to be shaped and developed in our learning environments to ensure that students have the transferable skills and competencies that will enable them to survive in the future world of work and be thoughtful, contributive global citizens. Access to digital technologies and the impact of globalization increases the need for our learners to be more socially and culturally aware but also more mindful of how they learn and what drives their learning. Our student need to be able to evaluate and assess their own learning. As you consider the NACE competencies as well as Ashford’s ILOs, the dispositions associated with them become very evident and the need to create meaningful assessment of those dispositions becomes clear.

Take critical thinking for example, as it was discussed at length during Dr. Swenson’s keynote. Assessing critical thinking dispositions is difficult in a multiple-choice format. Consider the question, “How open-minded are you?” It is fairly common for a student to answer, even if inaccurate, according to the student’s perception of the desired response . If an item probes less directly for a critical thinking disposition, for example by asking how often one pays close attention to views with which the student disagrees, the answer may differ from reality because of self-deception or simple lack of awareness of the student’s personal thinking style. A more direct way of assessing these same critical thinking dispositions would be to see what learners do when put in a situation where the dispositions would reveal themselves more authentically. 


Multi-step tasks with clear criteria, expectations, and processes that enable learners to interact with meaningful content and that measure how well a student transfers knowledge and applies complex skills and dispositions to create or refine an original product are exceptional tools to measure these essential habits. These types of assessments are not impacted by self-report bias; students can’t fake their way through them. Additionally, these assessments don’t simply measure students’ skills and dispositions. They help learners develop and strengthen these dispositions by providing authentic opportunities for learners to demonstrate them in real-world situations.


Our student population is primarily adult learners who are interested in content that has a direct and immediate application to their lives. Engaging them in real-world learning and authentic assessment helps them see the relevance of their learning to current situations and contexts. These types of assessments are not always easy to create and take a mindful and deliberate approach to course design. That said, rich learning, increased engagement, and improved outcomes tend to follow. Creating meaningful assessments which challenge and stimulate our learners and provide us with rich data about their learning will help us to narrow the competency proficiency and skills gap that employers face and better prepare our students for the workplace, active citizenship, and life-long learning.


Tricia Lauer

Associate Vice President, Learning Assessment

Ashford University / Academics

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